Substance over Form

Today’s reading:  Matthew 5:21-26, Psalm 61

Substance over form is an accounting principle used to help ensure that financial statements give a complete, relevant, and accurate picture of an organization’s transactions and events. The root of this principle is in accounting theory, but it applies to so much more than financial statements.  In fact, I challenge my team with this quite often – are we more interested in looking like we “follow the rules”, or are we truly committed making informed decisions that are in the best interest of our customer?  Almost every time, the answer is the latter.  We are responsible for looking below the surface, making sure the substance of our decision is rooted in our company mission and shared values.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he often taught through the use of parables. If his audience didn’t pay attention to the substance over simply the form of his teaching in this method, or had hardened hearts, they couldn’t understand his message.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew 5, was different. It was much more straightforward, as Jesus categorically outlined key principles for leading a Godly life.  Jesus began our passage for today in Matthew 5:21 by quoting the law of Moses – Do not commit murder.  If we stopped right here, most of us would walk away feeling okay about ourselves.  I have never even come close to taking the life of another person, so I’m good on this principle, right?  Not so fast.  We must stop and reflect – like the Pharisees, are we more interested looking like we “follow the rules”, or are we committed to Jesus and are we passionate about changing our hearts to look like his?  If the latter, we must go beyond the first sentence of this passage to get to the substance of this message.

In the very next verse, Jesus dug deeper and shared context on the true purpose behind God’s law against murder. “But I say to you, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council.  And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22).  The substance of Jesus’ message isn’t simply on the physical act of murder, it is about anger.  Hmm…that hits a little closer to home.

Jesus did not say that anger itself is sin. In fact, we can be angry without sinning, as Jesus himself demonstrated (see the story of Jesus and the money changers in John 2).  It is what we choose to do with anger and what we choose to do because of anger that makes it sinful.  Unresolved anger and bitterness eventually lead us to intentionally harm the people who made us angry, which is sin.  Even if we never get to the point of actually taking action, however, harboring anger in our heart is still sin because it draws a wedge in our relationship with others and our relationship with God.  We cannot claim to love God while we hate other people.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).

Do you struggle with unresolved anger? Don’t gloss over the substance of these verses thinking they don’t apply to you.  Will you consider the counsel in verses 23 and 24, and make it a priority to reconcile with the person(s) that caused your anger?  It isn’t easy, but God promises to make a way (Isaiah 43:16).